Open to Home/EU applicants only  

The School of Life Sciences at the University of Westminster is pleased to offer full research studentships for prospective PhD students starting in September/January 2020/2021. Located in the heart of London, the School of Life Sciences has an active research culture to which our well-established doctoral research programme makes a vital contribution.  

About the studentships

The school incorporates well-established research programmes in Biomedical Sciences, Biosciences and Nutrition. Research in the school across these fields has an international reputation for excellence, as was confirmed by the 2014 Research Excellence Framework.  

Applications are invited for full research studentships which are tenable for up to three years for full-time study. This is only open to EU/Home candidates. The students will be offered a stipend of £17,285 per annum and £3000 per annum for consumables. Students will be funded full time for thee years. At the end of this period of time, if the student has not yet submitted their thesis, subject to Graduate School approval and minimum enrolment period*, they will be able to enter “writing-up mode” and will be responsible for payments of any fees to the University of Westminster that may accrue. The students will not be contractually obliged to assist with teaching duties as part of their stipend. The students will be encouraged to assist with demonstrating practical classes and will be paid the rate for demonstrators. They will have an opportunity to complete the Supporting Students’ learning module offered at the University of Westminster if they so wish.  

We are looking for very high-quality prospective doctoral students. Specific project titles, Director of Studies (main supervisor), project code and short project descriptions are provided below. Applicants need to state the title and code of the project they are applying for. We recommend you discuss your project of interest with the Director of Studies via email before making a choice and submitting your application.  

Projects

Project description 

In recent years microRNA’s (miRNA) have emerged increasingly critical as biomarkers in cancer. miRNAs are small non-coding molecules that regulate gene expression and modulate cell proliferation, invasion and chemoresistance of cancer, and some miRNAs act as regulators for the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of tumour cells. Our aim is to study selected miRNAs and their roles in EMT/cancer metastasis by using gene editing tools in cellular models. We are also interested in how expression of miRNAs are regulated, exosomal RNA-mediated communication mechanisms, and tumour-specific characteristics, such as hypoxia. 

The current project will utilise a combination of in vitro, in vivo and in silico methods to identify and investigate miRNAs that play important roles in cancer metastasis. 

As a supervisory team, we optimised miRNA detection methods and assessed their expression levels and functions, as well as their cellular export, in different malignancies. This project will allow scope for the student to master molecular techniques including in situ hybridisation, CRISPR, qRT-PCR, in addition to cellular biology skills and bioinformatics and be part of a vibrant department with numerous researchers using genomics and microscopy to investigate cell biology. The candidate should have a strong background in molecular and cell biology and expected to present data regularly in internal and external research meetings and publish peer reviewed research papers. 

For informal enquiries please contact [email protected].

References

Warford A, Rahman NS, Ribeiro DA, Uysal Onganer P. (2020). Demonstration of microRNA using in situ hybridisation on formalin fixed paraffin wax samples using conventional oligonucleotide probes: a comparison with the use of locked nucleic acid probes. Br J Biomed Sci. 29:1-7. 

Arisan ED, Rencuzogullari O, Freitas IL, Radzali S, Keskin B, Kothari A, Warford A and Uysal-Onganer P. (2020) Upregulated Wnt-11 and miR-21 expression trigger epithelial mesenchymal transition in aggressive prostate cancer cells. MDPI Biology (Basel). 9;9(3).

Uysal Onganer, P, Maclatchy, Mahmoud R, Kraev I, Thompson PR, Inal JM and Lange S. (2020). A Peptidylarginine deiminase isozyme-specific PAD2, PAD3 and PAD4 inhibitors differentially modulate extracellular vesicle signatures and cell invasion in two glioblastoma multiforme cell lines. Int J Mol Sci.  22;21(4).

Kosgodage U, Uysal-Onganer P, Kraev I, Chatterton NP, Nicholas AP, Inal JM and Lange S. (2019). Peptidylarginine Deiminases Post-translationally deiminate Prohibitin and modulate Extracellular Vesicle Release and microRNAs in Glioblastoma Multiforme. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 20 (1), p. 103

Kosgodage U, Uysal Onganer P, Maclatchy A, Mould R, Nunn,AVW, Guy GW, Kraev I, Chatterton, NP, Thomas EL, Inal JM, Bell JD and Lange, S. (2019). Cannabidiol Affects Extracellular Vesicle Release, miR21 and miR126, and Reduces Prohibitin Protein in Glioblastoma Multiforme Cells. Translational Oncology. 12 (3), pp. 513-522.

Dart DA, Uysal Onganer P. and Jiang WG. (2017). Prostate-specific PTen deletion in mice activates inflammatory microRNA expression pathways in the epithelium early in hyperplasia development. Oncogenesis. 14 (6), p. 400.

Project description

Sustainable development goals in the United Nations 2030 agenda can be achieved by transitioning into a renewable circular bioeconomy. Biobased and biodegradable plastics can play a major role in this transition.

In 2018, global production of plastics reached 360 million (99% of the total production corresponded to the conventional fossil-based plastics). Conventional plastics are derived from petroleum feedstock and are estimated to take longer than 100 years to completely degrade. This highlights the need for sustainably produced, biodegradable plastics which will alleviate the carbon footprint and the impact on the environment. Microbial production of biobased and biodegradable plastics utilising carbon rich waste streams can be a much-needed alternative to the conventional plastics.

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) is one such family of biobased and biodegradable plastics produced by various bacterial species via fermentation technology. They are stored intracellularly as energy reserve under nutrient limiting conditions. Several PHA producers are known to utilise a wide range of carbon feedstock. PHAs have a high industrial value due to their biodegradable, biocompatible and varied physical properties. One of the hurdles in the large-scale exploitation of the PHAs is its high production cost. To make PHAs an economically viable alternative, their production cost must be minimized. This project will focus on the economical and environment friendly production of PHAs.

Objectives

To facilitate the implementation of PHA production at an industrial scale, several operating alternatives have been tested at the lab scale. The project will:

  • Explore the use of industrial by-product and/or waste streams as the carbon feedstock to produce PHAs.
  • Focus on developing an optimised production process to enhance the productivity of PHAs.
  • Aim at transitioning from the lab-scale to a pilot scale production with a focus on commercialisation of PHAs for medical applications.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project

  • Bacterial fermentation using advanced bioreactor systems to produce PHAs.
  • Spectroscopy and Mass Spectrometry to identify novel PHAs.
  • Gel permeation Chromatography, Differential Scanning Calorimetry, tensile testing to characterise PHAs.
  • High Performance Liquid Chromatography to analyse media.
  • 3D printing to test the processability
  • Cell culture studies
  • Confocal Microscopy

For informal enquiries please contact [email protected].

References

Basnett, Pooja, et al. "Antimicrobial Materials with Lime Oil and a Poly (3-hydroxyalkanoate) Produced via Valorisation of Sugar Cane Molasses." Journal of Functional Biomaterials 11.2 (2020): 24.

Basnett, Pooja, et al. Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Medicine 29.12 (2018): 179. Lukasiewicz, Barbara, et al. Acta Biomaterialia 71 (2018): 225-234.

Basnett, Pooja, et al. Microbial biotechnology 10.6 (2017): 1384-1399.

Basnett P., Ravi S., Roy, I. (2016) Science and Principles of Biodegradable and Bioresorbable Medical Polymers: Materials and Properties, 257.

Project description

This is a unique opportunity to participate in world-leading research on Extracellular Vesicle (EV) signatures across the phylogenetic tree, using comparative approaches to identify novel biomarkers and inform human health.

Project aim: To map EV signatures in diverse taxa, from bacteria to mammals, including animals with unusual immunological and metabolic traits, to elucidate EV-mediated proteomic and molecular interactions/patterns in the web of life and inform human health and pathologies.

Background: Extracellular vesicles are 20-1000 nm lipid vesicles, released from cells, and participate in cellular communication via transport of genetic and protein cargo. EVs are valuable biomarkers in physiological and pathological processes, while less is known about their diversity across phylogeny.

This project integrates into our ongoing research on proteomic and molecular (microRNA) profiling of EV- signatures in diverse taxa, using comparative approaches to inform human health and pathologies and for the development of novel biomarkers (see related publications below).

Our team seeks to develop PhD students to become future independent research leaders with high quality first author outputs in leading journals in the field.

Person specification: The successful candidate is expected to collaborate nationally and internationally, present research findings and significantly contribute to peer-reviewed articles in the fields of comparative immunology and EV research. A background and interest in the following disciplines is desirable: comparative immunology, proteomics, molecular biology, zoology, pathobiology and bioinformatics.

The PhD supervisory team: Director of Studies (Dr Sigrun Lange) alongside two co-supervisors: Dr Pinar Uysal-Onganer and Dr Polly Hayes.

For informal enquiries please contact:

Dr Sigrun Lange, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology
E:
[email protected].

References

Criscitiello, Kraev, Lange (2020). Post-translational protein deimination signatures in serum and serum- extracellular vesicles of Bos taurus reveal immune, anti-pathogenic, anti-viral, metabolic and cancer- related pathways for deimination. Int J Mol Sci. 21(8): 2861.

Sancandi, Uysal-Onganer, Kraev, Mercer, Lange (2020). Protein deimination signatures in plasma and plasma-EVs in a rat model of pre-motor Parkinson’s disease. Int J Mol Sci 21(8): 2743.

Bowden, Kraev, Lange (2020). Post-translational protein deimination signatures and extracellular vesicles (EVs) in the Atlantic horseshoe crab. Dev Comp Immunol 110: 103714.

Criscitiello, Kraev, Lange (2020). Deimination protein profiles in Alligator mississippiensis reveal plasma and extracellular vesicle- specific signatures relating to immunity, metabolic function and gene regulation. Front Immunol. 11:651.

Phillips, Kraev, Lange (2020). Protein deimination and extracellular vesicle profiles in Antarctic seabirds.

Biology (Basel). 9(1). pii: E15.

Magnadottir, Uysal-Onganer, Kraev, Svansson, Hayes, Lange (2020). Deiminated proteins and extracellular vesicles – Novel serum biomarkers in whales and orca. Comp Biochem Physiol D 34:100676.

Pamenter, Uysal-Onganer, Huynh, Kraev, Lange S (2019). Post-translational deimination of immunological and metabolic protein markers in plasma and extracellular vesicles of naked mole-rat. Int J Mol Sci. 29:20(21).

Kosgodage, Matewele, Awamaria, Kraev, Warde, Mastroianni, Nunn, Guy, Bell, Inal, Lange (2019). Cannabidiol is a novel modulator of bacterial membrane vesicles. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 9:324.

Project description

Obesity is a global epidemic with 1 billion adults classified as overweight (WHO). Currently, the most effective treatment for obesity is gastric surgery, which is invasive, expensive and carries several risks. Recent research has therefore focused on gaining a better understanding of the dynamics of appetite regulation and a focus towards development of non-pharmacological approaches to appetite management and obesity. This project will thus focus on assessing the effects of specific protein and fibre fractions on the dynamics of appetite hormone (e.g. PYY and GLP-1) secretion and action. A key objective will be to identify the bioactive components and secondary metabolites of the macronutrient fractions that stimulate and/or mimic appetite hormones. Another objective will be to delineate the mechanistic’s of appetite hormone signalling at the gut-brain axis in response to dietary stimuli and microbiota modulation. The project will employ a translational approach utilising validated in-vitro models in combination with a human intervention study. Data generated from the project will contribute to the wider understanding of the dynamics of satiety and the potential development of novel nutrient based appetite suppressant functional food formulas for diet modulation. This project is thus anticipated to generate impactful scientific outputs with clinical relevance suitable for high level external grant applications as well as unique know-how applicable for knowledge exchange initiatives with industry partners. This studentship will therefore provide the PhD candidate an opportunity to start a career in a topical, interdisciplinary project that has the potential to have significant clinical relevance in the area of nutrition and obesity.

The candidate will be part of a dynamic research team lead by Dr MG Zariwala and comprising of research associates, research assistants and doctoral researchers working on research and innovation projects on appetite, nutrition, neurodegeneration and diabetes.

For any informal queries please contact:

Dr Mohammed Gulrez Zariwala 
E: [email protected].

References

Project description

There are numerous orthopedic applications where the implantation of chondrocytes or their precursors could have therapeutic potential. These indications include articular cartilage defects and degenerative disc disease. The development cell-based therapies for both of these important indications will require supportive carrier / protective materials at both the scale up and transplantation phase.

  1. Articular cartilage defects
    Articular cartilage is a specialised avascular tissue with limited endogenous repair capability. Current approaches to treat articular cartilage defects involve surgical intervention such as microfracture, implantation of autologous chondrocytes or tissue transplantation. These techniques variously lead to the formation of inferior fibrocartilage, donor site morbidity, insufficient regenerate integration and need multiple surgeries. Additionally, because the cells have limited replicative capacity, treatment of larger injuries and/or osteoarthritis has not been feasible using ACI. Treatment of damaged articular cartilage due to injury or osteoarthritis accounts for a large proportion of orthopedic interventions with those involving the knee being the most common. In the UK, the costs associated with osteoarthritis exceed £3B including treatment and indirect costs associated with care. In the US, $60B is spent annually for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders involving cartilage.
  2. Degenerative disc disease
    Degenerative disc disease can occur due to genetic and local stress factors and involves degeneration of one or more intervertebral discs of the spine, a condition that can cause chronic, debilitating back pain. Progressive disc degeneration can cause neurological impairment due to nerve root or even spinal cord damage. The treatment and services associated with low back pain in the UK are estimated at £1.7B. Low back pain is the most common health problem for people between the age of 20 and 50 in the US resulting in 13 million doctor visits and $28B in annual productivity losses. Current treatment approaches involve pain medications, nerve root blocks, surgical discectomy, spinal fusion and other surgical procedures.

For both articular cartilage defects and degenerative disc disease, the concept of biologic repair using chondrocytes has been proposed but success will require large numbers of chondrocytes readily accessible and formulated in combination with a carrier material such they can be delivered and retained in the challenging lesion environment. In order to address large-scale clinical need a second generation” cell and material-based solution is required.

We will investigate the utility of a range of sustainable polymers and modification of the same in both the maintenance or differentiation of human stem cells into chondrocyte precursors or therapeutic sub- phenotypes. This work represents an important step in the development of clinically appropriate cell therapies for two of the most significant causes of disability and work absence in the developed world.

The candidate will be part of a new and exciting research team lead by Professor Brendon Noble and Dr Pooja Bassnet working on sustainable materials for use in clinical treatments.

For informal queries please contact:

Professor Brendon Noble
E: [email protected]

References

Entry requirements

Candidates should normally have a minimum classification of 2.1 in their Bachelor Degree or equivalent and preferably a Masters degree. Applicants whose secondary level education has not been conducted in the medium of English should also demonstrate evidence of appropriate English language proficiency normally defined as IELTS: 6.5 (overall score with not less than 6.0 in any of the individual elements).

Read more about our entry requirements

How to apply

UCAS application links

Please follow the link to apply for the programme most appropriate to your research, please note that the programme appears as MPhil on UCAS, however there is an option on the form to request PhD via MPhil, which is the standard route:

(SLS1) – Identification of microRNAs as predictors of cancer metastasis:
UCAS code P052439 - MPhil/PhD Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochemistry

(SLS2) – Bioplastics from waste streams: 
UCAS code P052431 - MPhil/PhD Biotechnology

(SLS3) – Profiling Extracellular Vesicle Signatures in the Tree of Life: 
UCAS CODE P052439 - MPhil/PhD Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochemistry

(SLS4) – Novel nutrient-based approaches for appetite regulation and obesity:
UCAS CODE P052439 - MPhil/PhD Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochemistry

(SLS5) – Next generation cell and material-based therapies for cartilage:
UCAS CODE P052439 - MPhil/PhD Molecular Biology, Biophysics & Biochemistry

Closing date for applications: 5pm Friday 26 June 2020

Interviews will be held in early July 2020.

The studentship title is SLS Full Research Studentship School of Life Sciences. Please include this in your application and the Project Code (i.e. SLS1 to SLS5) in order for us to allocate your application to the correct project.

 

*minimum enrolment period is 33 months.